Suppose you had a pocketful of money—not issued by the federal government—that you could use to purchase local goods and services. And while using these dollars, you would help the local economy and get discounts on your purchases. Sound too good to be true?
Local currency is thriving in various cities around the country, including Detroit, Ithaca, N.Y., and Pittsboro, N.C. These cities have their own supplemental currency, called Detroit Cheers, Ithaca Hours and Pittsboro Plenty, respectively. The currency is produced locally and is accepted by various local businesses and service providers.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tucson had its own local currency, produced by Tucson Traders. Now, a new "grassroots consensus community organization" called Tucson Life Cache is blazing a path to reintroduce local currency.
TLC's co-founders, John Rodriguez III, 24, and Danielle Siebert, 21, are self-described as passionate, community-driven people who are looking to tackle a number of environmental and sociopolitical issues.
"We decided to start this group, because we noticed more and more people ... were so isolated and not connected to one another. The community doesn't really interact in the way that we could. And creating a complementary currency is a great way to bring the community together," says Siebert.
The 6-month old TLC held a new economy film-and-discussion series this spring. Community members came together to discuss local currency ideas. TLC's 70 members are interested in a dual system of ledgers and scrips (currency).
"We'll start off with a ledger system first, and then as we sign up businesses, people using the system will have a choice to switch over to the scrip system or keep the ledger," says Rodriguez. In a ledger system, an account is kept for each person, and credits and debits are added and subtracted depending on the use or provision of services.
Rodriguez and Siebert say various local professionals have expressed interest in participating, including teachers, artists, handymen, cooks, counselors and pet sitters.
A scrip system will involve printing currency and getting local businesses on board to accept it. "It's a good way to ... keep it within the community and keep people going to local businesses," says Siebert.
As archivist for the group, Mary DeCamp provides a philosophical angle about our present workaday world. "In our current economic climate, what happens is we all go out and work long hours. The fruits of our labors are channeled up to a few really obscenely rich individuals. That's not a sustainable system. ... All we are saying is, 'Hey, there are different ways to approach this. Let's try something that intends to benefit us instead of a few obscenely wealthy people at the top.'"
I ask Rodriguez and Siebert if they agree with DeCamp, and they nod enthusiastically. Rodriguez adds: "That's the great thing about this. We all speak the same language."
DeCamp continues: "Exchanging services back and forth is a marvelous way to enrich our daily lives. This is not to take the place of dollar bills, but to complement and enrich our lives through exchanging things of value." She says they have received support from City Councilmember Karin Uhlich and other elected officials to "make sure it is viewed as a welcome addition to Tucson's profile."
Rodriguez sees establishing local currency as the tip of the iceberg. "You're getting everything under one umbrella. You're working on political issues, economic issues, environmental issues, education and social issues. We realized this is something big."
This big undertaking seems to be well-thought-out and organized. Rodriguez says they are not just a "bunch of radical, anarchist hippies." The two carry notebooks, background literature and even a complex organizational chart to illustrate their points.
There will be naysayers and those who insist that this system won't last. But with our state and city in financial crisis, Tucson Life Cache is at least providing a solution.
"We hope to present a positive view—something that is bright and a real opportunity to take charge of the negative things that are going on. We can talk for hours (about those), but we've had enough of that," says Rodriguez.
Siebert adds, "Instead of focusing on problems and complaining about them, we're focusing on solutions."